Wednesday, June 29, 2011

You Say Goodbye, I say Hello!

This last weekend we said good bye to a group of researchers from UNC who had been helping with an effort to assess the acceptability of starting a project within CFK to facilitate asset building among youth (basically how to encourage young people to start saving). It was an interesting endeavor to watch and I was sad to see them go. To end their stay, Mary, Julie and I put on our tourist hats and headed to a few of the must-see tourist traps of Nairobi - the elephant orphanage and the Karen Giraffe Center, rounded out with a trip to the swanky mall called Junction for some sushi (yes, that's right, sushi). It was fun to play that role for a day and spend it with other travelers who are only in Nairobi for a very short time.

Let's compare tongues....

okay, you win!

Yesterday, Amy said Hello again to Nairobi and came to stay at Mama's house with me for a few days. She is having struggles clearing her research through the massive amounts of red tape to get a protocol cleared internationally and needed to come to Nairobi to have a few necessary face-to-face conversations. I am happy to play host (or to provide a willing host, thanks Mama!) and have her here for a few days.

In research news, I had a very productive focus group with the peer-youth-educators on Saturday and have had productive follow-up interviews with the staff this week as well. Things seem to be lining up a bit better as I am able to sort out what I am actually going to be able to accomplish during my stay here in Kenya. As in most research projects, and I think especially those taking place abroad, the best-laid plans rarely go through without alteration. I am now feeling like I have a good grasp of what I can - and can not- accomplish during my time here. Onward!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Kibera Reflection #1 - Where is the love?

I have been implored by a number of people to write more about Kibera and the community that I am working with. I apologize for the lack of details, perhaps it is that it is nearly impossible to know where to begin. Although I had seen many pictures and spoke with many people who had visited previously, I was acutely aware that I could not prepare myself for working in Kibera. I was correct. I have had some really great, and some not as great, experiences in Kibera over the last month and I think it is a good idea for me to post some reflections on the community, and all of the happenings there, to give my readers a bit of insight and to help me to process a bit.
The CFK Senior Girls' team in a group hug with their opponents after their game

Because I am working with sexual and reproductive health, I am often contemplating one associated subject (to varying degrees)  -- love.

I overheard a conversation the other day among another researcher and a community member about love and sex and marriage in Kibera. “There is no love in Kibera”, she said, in reference to the fact that many people have sex as a means to an end or part of a casual relationship. Often, this encounter results in an STI, HIV, or an unwanted pregnancy. I have heard innumerous stories of men bolting at the sign of trouble leaving a young girl pregnant or misled. I am told that girls start having sex as young as ten years old, although the most common age I hear is more like 12. It is generally with older men who are able to provide something to the girl. One new friend here, when I asked him why a 12 year old girl would sleep with a much older man, replied “I don’t know, maybe he gives her something, like chips (fries).”  

It is easy to see the spaces in Kibera void of love. Frowning women hunched over a steaming pot of food, young men looking menacing and perceptibly unemployed, pregnant girls who are shockingly young, animals with indescribable injuries. These voids are magnets, drawing the attention of concerned individuals world-wide.

I have made a concerted effort to discover the pockets of love throughout Kibera and have found several, only a few of which are presented here. First, and most obvious, is that I see love in the volunteers of CFK, especially those who are my age. I am always struck with the amount of passion and commitment that the young people have for their community. I think this is because I refer back to the same age group at home and am struck by the absence of the same sacrifice for their community. The young volunteers of CFK change their school schedules, give up jobs and opportunities, and sacrifice time to serve their community. Their love is evident in their participation and in their true and honest interest to see their community prosper.

I also see love in A--, the woman who comes to help Mama clean and cook twice a week and resides in Kibera. Privileged to see her house a couple days ago, she told me about how she had the opportunity to move into a larger, more expensive, home a few doors down but that she passed it up so that she could continue to send her son to a better school outside of the slum. To pay for the transportation, she gave up the opportunity to move into a larger space, understanding the importance of the educational opportunity for her young son. A-- shows love to her son by using almost a fifth of her monthly income to pay for the bus across town, and even more of her income to pay for his school fees (although technically primary education is free here in Kenya). A-- is not alone, many of the mothers I have met have sacrificed greatly for the next generation. I see love in the mamas who go to extraordinary measures for their families.

There is a strong sense of community within Kibera that also sometimes gives off the palpable sense of love. While there are unfortunate and violent exceptions to this, it seems that the members of Kibera are a close family sharing a unique and defining experience. The love is apparent in individuals looking out for one another, offering what little they have to support their neighbors with the understanding that tomorrow they themselves might be in need of assistance. I have heard stories of people risking their own safety to protect others during the post-election violence of 2008 or to provide food and assistance to those who were in need during that period of crisis. People check on their neighbors to make sure that they are alright if they have not come out of their home (I don’t even know the names of my neighbors back in Carrboro). Another new friend told me that her mother took in a baby she found on her street, still covered in blood, hours old, and abandoned, and has raised the baby as her own. The people of Kibera seem to understand that their neighbor’s wellbeing is inextricably tied with their own and this is reflected in the love that the community members have for each other.

So while on the surface there may be tangible absences of love and many other human necessities in Kibera, there are important pockets of hope and understanding that can be magnified with the continued effort of CFK and the other leaders working here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

My Weekend in Pictures

This weekend I met up with Amy in Kisumu, Kenya. It was a perfect weekend of relaxation and I feel really rejuvinated. It was a perfect meeting spot for us. For me, Kisumu was a quiet town with safe(r) streets and fresh air and for Amy, who is stationed in a very very rural area, Kisumu was a bustling town of not one but two grocery stores and plenty of culinary options. We had a great time in the third largest city in Kenya, located right on Lake Victoria. 

A reunion Tusker with Amy

 Small fish in a bucket, smoked fish lined up, or fresh fish in the blue bucket - we ate a lot of fish .

Kids on a school trip admire the tortoise at the Kisumu Museum

The decor at the Kiboko Bay Hotel - Hippos, hippos, hippos

Sunsets over water remind me of home

Sage advice, truly

The Dhau is the local style of boat used for fishing, and for carting tourists around to see the hippos

Kisumu Yacht Club

Impala Sanctuary - we saw roaming impalas, zebras, baboons and a four foot monitor lizard 
Along with a few animals in cages. Here Mercy the baboon gives Amy a high five

Amy's first zebras!

Amy, Dunstan and I on our first tuk-tuk ride! 

Did I mention the sunsets?

The bugs were intense

On our requisite hippo-seeing boat trip

Mangrove tree

Fishing boat


Remnants of my sighting of the President of Kenya (story to follow)
Pink stork and friends with some timely advice - never give up.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Progress! And thoughts on research in the developing world, pt 1.

View of Kibera from the roof of the Clinic, the upgraded flats in the distance

These past two weeks I have slowly made progress on my research project. In short, the project is attempting to do a program assessment of the sexual reproductive health program which aims to create a history of the program, understand the context that the program fits into, and understand the obstacles to meeting the objectives to the program. I also intend to help create a way for CFK to evaluate the program in the future. I am so fortunate to work with an enthusiastic and inspiring group of staff and volunteers at CFK. It truly makes my job easier to look forward to coming into the office. I appreciate their openness and willingness at allowing another American to come into their work space and attempt a new project.

I work closely with Ben, the program officer of the SRH program, and over the last couple weeks we have managed to plot out our plan for the summer. Although on paper this looks like only about 40 hours of interviews/focus groups over 6 weeks, this is quite a bit of time. And I am lucky enough to "get" to transcribe each audio recording! Yee haw! But like I said, because I am enjoying my time at CFK and really am interested in the project and in supporting the community of Kibera, the task becomes less of a drag.

Last Thursday I pitched my project via a hastily made powerpoint to the key staff members that I will be interviewing and relying on throughout my stay here. Because it is the intent of the project to be of use to the organization, it is important to have staff buy-in and to emphasize that we both stand to benefit from the time used. I thought about this in terms of some of the discussions we have had at Duke this year about research in the developing world. All too often, students and researchers come into a community, use local resources, and leave with all the necessary data without even once looking back. CFK, and organizations like this, have had experiences like this where they have individuals come for a period of time, invested time and energy and staff into the project, only to be completely left in the dust. When I asked for questions from my audience last Thursday, they were quick to ask (and rightly so) exactly when and where they should expect to see the results. I think they were looking for my flight number for December (I wish). I assured them that not only did they have my word, but also that I had mentors back in the states who had CFKs interest in mind. I didn't take it personally that they were still a bit hesitant, even after my assurances. It isn't my place to judge the individuals out there who do research without the communicating the results with the community back in the developing world (although I may have some thoughts on the matter), but whoever they are, they left a jaded audience for the next guys.

On Monday I had my first real interview with Ben and I managed to make it last for 1.5 hours! I am still working out my methodology as I go and have given myself liberal permission to 'wing it'. The interview went well and consisted mostly of a framework for the program. I was better able to understand what I would need from the other staff members. Because of a severe lack of documentation of almost any type, it is up to these interviews with the staff, volunteers, and participants to complete my project. It is a really good experience for me, almost a sink-or-swim way of learning how to do this, and for all the messiness and uncertainty I am thankful for the opportunity. It just takes one short stroll around Kibera to give me encouragement to complete the project in the best way that I can.

The rest of this week and next I will be continuing to interview the staff and then will move on to the volunteers and finally a handful of participants. This will not be a random sampling of participants, as the number of participants of the SRH program number in the tens of thousands, but a good enough sample to give me an idea of how the program is working.

That's the research update!

I managed to take a few more picture of Kibera under the cover of a troop of Americans visiting the office.

Eat your heart out PNW - Recycling center in Kibera run by CFK's Trash is Cash program

Our neighbors at CFK - a smiling, "how-are-you"ing group of kiddos

Winim Bike Repair Shop

An ad for soap (Ushindi) ironically covered in garbage

The sign for the original Tabitha Clinic

Monday, June 13, 2011

Kibera: A very large slum.

This weekend was great. I got to see some familiar faces (hey Dunstan and Andria!), meet some new friends (hey Jacque!), go to church with Mama (hey, what? They make new-comers stand up in front of the 500+ congregation?) and find two American like malls (hey, you can pay four dollars for coffee in Kenya too!). I took three days away from Kibera to get myself ready for my research that is gearing up this week.

Today while walking through Kibera by myself from the main office to the satellite office, a man approached me. “Hey Mzungu!” He yelled with a broad smile, “Hey! What are you doing here? What are you doing in Kibera?” I replied in my usual way, with a smile or a nod, and usually something short and vague, but before I could get anything out, he yelled:

"Kibera is a very large slum!”

After delivering his earth-shattering revelation that was sure to send me skittering back to wherever I had come from, he turned with a laugh and continued on his way.Why thank you Mister! Granted the anti-malarials I am on bring with it a hazy sense of reality that often blurs the line between dreaming and not, I had, indeed, noticed that Kibera was 

A. Very. Large. Slum.

Here are some friendly faces that I encountered during my weekend. 
Mary - UNC grad student and java buddy

Andria (duke friend) and Jacque (new friend and sister of Dunstan)

Neighbor friend Abby

After picking up my comb, she began and stated simply "There will be pain".

Mama! Picture by Abby.

Dunstan (duke friend) and friendly cups of chai
The clouds here are beautiful. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Nairobi is a balancing act

So my time in Nairobi is going by. I am cruising through my second week. For me, the first week is always the hardest because everything is new and everything takes adjustment. And adjustment takes energy. I have found myself in several instances over the last two weeks contemplating the delicate balance that is life as a visitor to Nairobi and Kibera.

Bored vs. Concerned: The most important accessory to have while walking the streets in Nairobi and in Kibera is a poker face. I have been perfecting mine. It is a tricky balance between looking bored (“I have walked this street so many times I couldn’t possibly be new here. Oh here comes another boy with knee high Uggs and a tight purple t-shirt that reads “Frankie Says Chill” on it. Yawn) and still looking like you are interested in the place around you. It is important to look confident as if you routinely navigate through the area to not further draw attention as an outsider. This balance between bored and concerned is especially complicated in Kibera. It is inappropriate to have a shocked look at every turn, although the number of shocking sights and smells is innumerable. On the flip side it is inappropriate to look like the surroundings are mundane, because there is very little mundane about it. It is important to show concern without looking condescending. This requires more finesse than it may seem.  My perfect poker face, which elicited a “are you bored madam” from a random passer-by today, is still in the works.

No personal space vs. keeping your distance: For those who have traveled in areas like this, it is not a surprise that the definition of personal space is very different here from in the US. I bump into countless people each day and squeeze myself between men and cars frequently. People talk to you closely and are more touchy-feely than perhaps is acceptable in the States. While walking, it is important to keep with the flow of traffic by allowing yourself to come very close to those who you are passing. This decision is often simply made for you because of the small walking space on the sides of the road. Allowing yourself to be pushed along shows you are not the paranoid American who knows nothing of Kenya. I don’t mind the closeness of a Kenyan conversation (with a friend) at all. On the other hand, however, it is important to remain the paranoid American and give the selected wide berth to people who may be trouble. When walking, I try to keep my distance from anybody who is stumbling or staring too long, or with too wide a grin. Or someone shouting “Hey Princess, come back to my house and marry me today”. Marriage proposals get an especially wide berth, and a slight chuckle.

Meeting new people vs. ignoring constant pleas for attention: Although the kids are more polite here than in Tanzania, as they should “Howareyoufine” instead of “mzungu mzungu”, their calls and attention are still constant. Today four of us were rushed by a herd of school kids wanting to touch our hair, and lept in the air to do so, their maroon school uniform skirts sailing behind them. Young men also call out to us. The phrases we hear are mostly polite, although one guy yelled at us a couple days ago with a stern “You MUST greet me!” My favorite greeting has to do with Obama. Since my arrival I have met approximately 50 of Obama’s cousins and 15 of his school desk mates. I have had people pass by with “Tell Obama hello” and “How is Obama” and “Obama is my president”. Yesterday I told one person I did not know who Obama was and he replied in a shocked tone “He is the most important Kenyan in the world”. I will let Trump know. There is a balance in replying to these comments and ignoring them all together. Yesterday, leaving the compound of another American, a man approached us while we stood with our backs to the wall, blocking off our path forward. Immediately on our defense, I was ready to get out of there if needed. The man simply wanted to state his name for us and tell us he was on his way to work. Thanks for the update William from Woodley. While it is important to get to know the local people, to engage them in conversations, some people are better left ignored and at the end of the day it is impossible to satiate every kids’ desire for a fist bump with a mzungu. That said, I have had some really interesting and personal conversations with people I have met.

Another balancing act.

More pictures from World Environment Day

With a snack of Mandazi (triangle shaped yummy donuts)

The clean up managed to happen without me : )

With the trees we are about to plant

Lindsey and I with our "certificates"

Monday, June 6, 2011

World Environment Day and Knowing My Status

The parade to the event, the sign reads: The environment is our responsibility. 
 Sunday was World Environment Day and CFK had a big event to celebrate the day, although I had never heard of this particular holiday. Lindsey and I went to the CFK office early, around 8, to meet up with the participants from CFK. The first portion of the day was a clean-up in Kibera. One of CFK’s main programs is entitled Taka ni Pato, or War on Trash. This group regularly does cleanups of Kibera and works to inform the community on what to do with their trash. They have an agreement with the city of Nairobi to come and haul away their load of garbage after each regular clean-up. They also have a recycling center where they try to pick out the trash that they can sell as refuse or recycling.

Admittedly, I was hesitant to participate in whatever they meant by “clean-up of Kibera”, after spending just one week in the community. I approached the task as a trial by fire and new it would not be a pretty sight. When we met at the office, there were about 30 shovels and spades at the ready and a truck to haul the goods down to the site, about a mile away, to where the clean-up would take place. When the truck was leaving CFK, we jumped in the back and rode with about 15 other people and the tools over the bumpy path. One of the people we were with laughed and said we were being carried like cabbages. It was a funny phrase, and I was curious about where it came from. I have yet to see any cabbages in Kenya.

The truck inevitably didn’t make it all the way to where the event was being held. We reached a point where men were doing construction on the road, meaning they had a pile of rocks they were spreading around. Because this was still a pile, we were not able to go past. We jumped out and I walked with one of the participants, a PYE (peer youth educators) who had taken me on a tour of Kibera the week before. We finally reached Ndogo fields, an area that is an open area for events just like this one. After hanging around for a bit waiting for those who were following, we realized that we had missed the clean up entirely. Oops. What I managed to learn was that they dig out the trenches and put the sludge into plastic bags that get hauled away. Maybe next time…
Two guys from Taka ni Pato, their jumpsuits say "trash is cash", look out over the Nairobi Dam
At the event, and at most major events like this, CFK sets up an outreach VCT center. A VCT center (voluntary counseling and testing) is a well-known in this part of the world as the place to get tested for HIV.  CFK employs one full-time counselor and there is a collection of other people who volunteer at the VCT center, both at the permanent one at the main office or for these sorts of events. I helped them set up the room for the VCT, an empty cement room with a table and two chairs in each corner. Nothing glamorous but good enough to get the job done. The four stations were set up to receive people all day and they had a target of testing 80 people at the event. 

When the VCT staff and the PYEs who were there to mobilize people to come and get tested found out that I had never been tested for HIV, they were shocked and it was apparent that they were not impressed. I tried to explain how in America many people don’t go to get tested for HIV on a regular basis. They asked me if it was because there was no access or because there were no VCT centers around. I responded that in America those in “high-risk groups” were often targeted with testing efforts, or that people may get tested as a part of a STD screening, but other than that I doubted if many of my friends had been tested. I also explained that most Americans don’t think they are at risk for HIV. The PYEs were still not convinced this was reason enough for everyone in America to not get tested. I mentioned that I was married and that was my primary reason for not getting tested. This also did little to convince them.

How do you know your husband is not a Casanova? How do you know he has no side dish?

I laughed thinking about the side dishes that Marty did have at home – a collection of frozen food I had purchased from Trader Joe’s the day before I left.

But instead of going into all of that, I decided to get tested.

This was an interesting experience because the counselors ran me through the whole program of what she normally says, as she should have. Having read academically about VCTs for so long, it was really interesting to go through the all the paces – to talk to the counselor about how I was at risk, how I could prevent changing my negative status or passing on HIV to a partner, and then finally getting my finger pricked and the test completed. I gave my first name, my marital status, my job and my age. This information, along with my status, is collected both by CFK and sent to the national government. They use three different tests here in Kenya, and it is likely to be the same elsewhere. Once the first test is completed, if there is a positive result a second test is used to confirm. If this reads negative, a third is done as a tie-breaker. The test took about 15 minutes and I was told to read the results myself. The counselor told me that she always had the person being tested read their own results for fear that they would think she was lying to them. If it read positive, they were referred to the Tabitha Clinic for follow-up. All and all, it was an important moment and I think it was good for me to practice what I was preaching.

Watching the football match
The event continued with entertainment from the community. Songs and poems were read by some school kids about different health topics, soccer was played as usual, and there were performances from other local artists. The jump rope team from CFK performed and that was really impressive. The event was highlighted for me by an effort of CFK to plant some trees. The area that we were at is on the edge of Kibera that is adjacent to an area of land called the Nairobi Dam. At one point an actual dam, this area is where all of the run-off from Kibera ends up, resulting in a swampy area full of plants, weeds, and other greenery that feed off of the supply of fertilizer coming from Kibera.cTo plant the trees, we went to a plot of grass behind the dusty field the event was held at. Men with shovels dug holes into the ground, bringing up the earth but with it a collection of plastic bags, shoe soles, plastic toys, and other garbage buried under the ground. I thought about my geologist friends taking core samples of earth to learn the history of a place and I imagined the core samples from Kibera and what story each piece of trash 6 inches, 12 inches, 24 inches under the ground would tell.

We placed each of our trees into the holes and watered them with a single watering can. The fresh green life was a juxtaposition from the dusty and garbage filled land that surrounded them. Although my thoughts wandered into symbolic thoughts about how these trees representing hope springing from the ground, I figured that it was more symbolic in that the trees will work as hard as they can, get a little help from a stray watering can when they are able, and perhaps make it. Maybe. This reminded me of the people I had met thus far in Kibera, who I respected greatly, working hard for a chance to make it but at the end of the day rooted in a ground that was unstable and imperfect.